A hospice nurse has been barred from her profession for 20 years after admitting to a sexual relationship with her married terminally ill patient.
The Oklahoma Nursing Board in August disciplined Amber Van Brunt, 33, of Shawnee, for unprofessional conduct. Now, she is asking an Oklahoma County judge to reverse the board's order “to correct this miscarriage of justice.”
A hearing is set for Wednesday.
At the heart of the appeal is an ethical question: Is it ever right for a nurse to have sex with a patient?
Van Brunt's attorney told the judge the consensual relationship with the patient was on the nurse's “own personal time,” while she was visiting as a friend, not while she was on duty caring for him.
The nursing board responded that there is evidence of sexual contact during nursing visits but that it doesn't matter when it happened.
“The nurse is the professional in this situation. It is the responsibility of the professional to say no to the vulnerable patient,” the board's attorney told the judge. “The rules … do not mean simply while you are on shift; they mean during the entire time ... you are assigned to the care of that patient, whether that is six days in the hospital or six months in hospice care or six years in a nursing home.”
The patient, Chris Reiter, 43, suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. He said he was seduced. Van Brunt worked for Angelic Family Hospice in Shawnee.
She began caring for the former Hershey Foods salesman in November 2009 at his Shawnee home. He had been told months earlier he had six months or less to live.
His wife, Liz Reiter, 41, told the board she suspected her wheelchair-bound husband was having an affair with the nurse, but he denied it in February.
She said in March she discovered on his computer graphic messages between her husband and the nurse after he tried to commit suicide.
She told the board she felt “horrible, betrayed.”
She testified, “After all of the things that I had been doing to take care of him and that this is what happened.”
Chris Reiter made the suicide attempt March 4, two days after Van Brunt told him in a text message that she was pregnant by another man, according to evidence given to the nursing board. Van Brunt was visiting him at the time of the attempt. She called 911 after he took several muscle relaxants.
He told a hospice social worker March 5, “What a fool I have been. I have messed up everything,” according to the evidence.
He never returned home. He died May 21 in Illinois.
Liz Reiter indicated to the nursing board that he starved himself to death.
They married in 1996 and had two children. She moved to Nebraska after his death.
Van Brunt admits to “the mistake” of having a sexual relationship with a patient, her attorney, Kimberly Stevens, told District Judge Patricia Parrish. The attorney said Van Brunt was a young, inexperienced nurse working in an emotionally demanding field of practice and “fell in love.”
The Oklahoman twice asked for an interview with Van Brunt, but her attorney never made her available.
Who made complaint?
Van Brunt got her nursing license in October 2008. She can apply for reinstatement of her revoked license in August 2030 if she pays a $5,000 penalty. The board did not reveal who made the complaint against her.
She was not accused of any crime because of the relationship.
Van Brunt did visit the patient several times while off duty, drinking with him and watching football on TV, according to testimony before the board. Liz Reiter said she even asked the nurse to stay overnight with her husband twice last January while she underwent a sleep study.
Chris Reiter on March 9 signed a typed statement that “Amber Van Brunt had inappropriate contact with me multiple times during regular hours nursing visits.” Weeks before his death, he and his wife filed a negligence lawsuit against Angelic Family Hospice. The lawsuit was later dropped.
In their written exchanges last February, Van Brunt called her patient “sexy” and “lover.”
The last exchange came in March after she wrote she was “knocked up.”
He wrote, “You broke my heart babe.”
She responded at one point, “I wish it was u.”